Friday, May 10, 2013

Those Best Suited to Rule

Librarian in the TARDIS, Review 3.01

Title: The Curse of Peladon
Team TARDIS: Third Doctor, Jo Grant
Adversary: High Priest Hepesh, Arcturus (Spoilers. Sorry).
Originally Aired: January 29-February 19, 1972
Number of Episodes: 4

Synopsis (from TARDIS Wikia)-

The Doctor and Jo make a test flight in the TARDIS and arrive on the planet Peladon. Seeking shelter, they enter the citadel of the soon-to-be-crowned King Peladon, where the Doctor is mistaken for a human dignitary summoned to act as Chairman of a committee assessing an application by the planet to join the Galactic Federation.

My Review: 

“It is a well-known fact that those people who must want to rule people are, ipso facto, those least suited to do it. 
To summarize the summary: anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job.”
― Douglas Adams, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

In Traveling the Vortex’s recent Third Doctor Retrospective, the Vortex Boys asked the question “What defines this era the most?” Rightly so, they cued into things such as UNIT, the Master, gadgets and gizmos, Venusian Akido - things to do with the earthbound stories representative of the Pertwee era. And, let’s be honest, most broad reviews of the Pertwee era make great mention of those things. So when it came time for me to choose the televised story I wanted to review for the Third Doctor, I didn't want to rehash the same stuff that everyone else talks about. Don’t get me wrong - UNIT is awesome. I love UNIT. The Brigadier, Benton, Liz Shaw (who gets unfairly overlooked in so many things) - the dynamic within the UNIT family is a treat to see (even Captain Yates - before he turned to the dark side). But I wanted to give the non-UNIT stories of the Pertwee era some love because they often get ignored simply for not being representative. While “Carnival of Monsters” would have been an easy choice because it is generally well-liked (I enjoy it immensely), I also love “The Curse of Peladon.” And I was unpleasantly surprised to see that this story is not highly-regarded by fandom. When that came to my attention, my choice was made even easier.

Sometimes the politically-focused stories in Doctor Who get the short end of the stick in fandom regard.  But "The Curse of Peladon" balances out the political strife with a fair amount of suspense and action - but also a lot of heart.  While I was rewatching this, I ended up taking lots of notes about the politics these characters find themselves in - to the point that I actually had to pause the DVD and write out my thoughts on what was going on.

The Delegation is made up of people who have been around political games for a long time and play the game they same way they breath, eat and poop - it's just a fact of life for them. Kind of like Game of Thrones, but with less incest (there's another Wife-in-Space-ism for you - and they just finished their last review of the Classic Series. Sad day...)  I guess this could be a commentary on politics in real life (uh-oh - I'm bringing politics into my reviews...) in that normal, sane people who would never seek political office in a million years look at the permanent political class largely as a group of sleazeballs who are only in it for themselves and their lackeys while paying lip-service to the people who put them into office.  Generally "getting things done" in political office means being cynical and mistrustful and assuming that the people you deal with do the same kinds of underhanded, sleazeball things that you do (because that's how everyone lives their lives, don'cha know?)

Thing is, in "The Curse of Peladon," King Peladon genuinely wants to be a good king and serve his people - he is a man in whom there is no guile.  He believes the best in people - mostly because he hasn't had his ideals beaten out of him yet. That also means that his politically savvy advisor, Hepesh, thinks he can play Peladon like a naive little puppet.  Hepesh probably would have gotten away with it too - if it hadn't been for that meddling Doctor (and Jo - but I'll get to Jo's role in all of this).

The Doctor's seen his share of political intrigue and what-have-you.  But the Doctor is the kind of guy that runs from any offer of political power (for all reports that the Doctor is a mad man, at least on this score he is as sane as you or I - unless you, Dear Reader, are the sort of person that wants to run for public office, in which case what the hell is wrong with you???)  Thing is, the Doctor is the very person who would be most suited to public office simply because he would see it as a job to do, do the job, and go on to something else.  The Doctor sees through all the political intrigue and tells the truth (seeing as he really doesn't have any reason to lie - he doesn't have a dog in the fight over Peladon joining the Galactic Federation.  He's not even really the Earth Delegate).

I've got to talk more about Jo in this story. She really shines here, and not just because she gets to play the role of a badass Earth princess (anyone who can climb a mountain AND sneak out a window into a storm in high heels is pretty tough). Jo is a lot like King Peladon - she too is one in whom there is no guile.  Even more than the Doctor, I think Jo was the one to really throw a monkey wrench into Hepesh's plans to rule behind a puppet king.  Jo was probably the first person Peladon met that wasn't trying to maneuver into power and who genuinely wanted to do the right thing.  It was probably quite the revelation to Peladon to discover that he wasn't the only one in the universe not scheming for personal ends.  The funny thing is, Jo has even less of a reason to want peace than the Doctor - she's not from this time period and it didn't even matter to her what became of the Galactic Federation or Peladon or any of it.  But she sees a way that she can help and she just does it, regardless of what happens to her in the long run.  That's more or less why Peladon likes Jo - he sees someone he can finally relate to and that he could be happy with - but the poor guy does a really bad job of communicating.  He's not used to relating to people beyond political alliances (which he's probably been trained to do from a young age, never mind forging personal connections).  That doesn't sit well with Jo, sadly.  Because I almost wish that she'd stayed behind with Peladon (that could be more a result of me finding Cliff Jones to be a complete and utter dork).

This side of Jo was a big surprise for me because it was the first one I'd seen with her outside UNIT.  To this point, I'd assumed that Jo was the sweet, sassy, spunky little blonde girl in awesome '70s boots that made the Doctor look good.  Don't get me wrong, I love sweet and sassy Jo.  But in this story - the first one that she doesn't have to compete with all the UNIT boys - Jo gets to show off why she is the Doctor's companion.  The Doctor takes only the very best, after all, and Jo is no exception.  Her contribution to Team TARDIS is along the lines of what Jamie did - Jo has a lot of heart.  She cuts straight to the center of Peladon's dilemma between honoring the traditions of the people who raised him and changing a few of those traditions in order to do what is best for his people.  I don't think any other character could have - or would have - done as much.  She proves that honesty is her best trait - her best weapon, if I may use the term.  And that's just as important as knowing which polarity to reverse and when to reverse it (or even proclaiming that "girls can do whatever boys can do!" as happens in the sequel to this story "The Monster of Peladon," which I'm not as fond of.  I'd rather the girls actually do something than sit around and philosophize about how wonderful it is to be liberated.  Liberation isn't worth much if you don't do anything with it).

All this blog space and I haven't even talked about Aggedor yet!  Well... there's not much to say about the guy.  He's a teddy bear with horns that lives in the catacombs under Peladon's castle (palace? stronghold? I can't recall...)  The Doctor puts Aggedor to sleep with a metronome-hypnotizer-thing and a Venusian lullaby, which is pretty cool, but not much to write home about beyond that.  But I wouldn't mind an Aggedor plushie.  He's sort of cute (but Arcturus looks like that Jamaican-shrunken-head-thing in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Seeing as that is my second-least favorite of those movies, that is not a compliment).

"The Curse of Peladon" is a nice mix of political intrigue, heart, mythology, character development and, yes, a little bit of romance.  This story gives Jo Grant time to shine and kick ass in her sweet, endearing, charmingly girly ways.  No other companion has been given the title Princess of TARDIS, and it's one that suits her very well.  Even more than King Peladon, Jo has the whole "benevolent ruler" thing down pat.  The only thing that would make this better is if she had gotten to use her talents in that area in the long term.

Next Time, on Librarian in the TARDIS -
Review 3.02 - Where have they taken you, Elizabeth Shaw?

Previously -
Review 2.03 - The Celestial Chessmaster

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